Up in smoke: M’ville’s RFA talks with Arlington

MARYSVILLE – The proposed Regional Fire Authority with Arlington went up in flames Monday night.

The firefighters union, rather than firefighters themselves, and the Arlington RFA negotiating team took the majority of the heat.

Cooler heads of Mayor Jon Nehring, Fire Chief Martin McFalls and Council Member Michael Stevens did not prevail.

Nehring said Tuesday that talks will continue with Fire District 12 on a possible RFA. He called Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert to inform her of the vote Monday.

Outgoing Councilman Jeff Seibert brought up the issue. He has been on the Marysville RFA negotiating team, along with Councilman Stephen Muller and Donna Wright, another outgoing member of the council.

Seibert said in the most-recent RFA talks Arlington again would not accept that Marysville deserved more representation on an RFA governing board, even though it is much bigger. “It did not have to go down this road,” Muller said, adding governance was the main hurdle. But Seibert said the clincher was Arlington wanted a new RFA to pay for rigs that city has purchased recently.

“It’s not fair for our taxpayers to pay Arlington debt,” Seibert said.

Wright then read from prepared statements about the firefighters union. She said the power of special interest groups is great. “They don’t always do what’s in the best interest” of citizens, she said.

She hinted that the union caused her to lose the recent election to challenger Mark James. She said her husband was told, “It didn’t have to be that way.” The union supported James because Wright was not sold yet on the RFA, she said.

“Firefighters unions get them elected then make sure they stay in line,” Wright said. “I will not be bullied anymore.”

Stevens said he didn’t support making such a “hasty” decision. He wanted to see what Arlington’s City Council wanted to do next.

Council president Kamille Norton said the plan had been to make a decision in December, even though the council voted recently to extend talks another year. She called the past year of negotiations a fact-finding mission.

“Arlington doesn’t want to be dragged along,” she said. “It’s better for them to know sooner than later.”

McFalls made a passionate plea to keep the talks moving. “I have no doubt in my mind that this is the way to go,” he said. McFalls added it would be best for Marysville residents in the long run because costs would be saved by consolidating, and service also would improve. He said while the recent RFA meeting was contentious he still feels Arlington is willing to negotiate. “I do believe Arlington wants to come back,” he said. “They are just trying to negotiate in the best interest of Arlington citizens.”

He said if some of Arlington’s new equipment was to be moved out of town for an RFA it was only right that their citizens didn’t pay all of the costs. “Don’t turn away other communities’ resources that could make us better,” he said.

Right after his talk, the council voted 6-1 to end the RFA talks with Arlington.

On that same night in Arlington, council members grudgingly struck a tone of compromise.

On a last-minute item added to the agenda, council member Debora Nelson asked the others about whether RFA talks should continue with Marysville and Fire District 12.

Outgoing member Chris Raezer thinks pursuing the RFA is worthwhile.

“Personally, what I envision would be the RFA transition to its own fire commission separate from the two cities and district,” he said. “I think it’s cleaner for the RFA to have its own fire commission.”

Jesica Stickles agreed governance should be by elected commissioners based on population. That way, “Arlington will be served by commissioners that live in Arlington, and they’ll be held accountable by Arlington citizens.”

She doesn’t agree with Marysville’s position that council members should have representation on the RFA board.

“Marysville’s not going to go for that,” Nelson said. “They were dead set against it at the last meeting.”

“My impression from the last meeting was very negative from Marysville,” member Marilyn Oertle said. “I felt that their council people had no intention of giving up have council representation on the RFA. Marysville, in my opinion, just wants total control.”

Nehring said Tuesday he was caught by surprise as the issue wasn’t even on the agenda. “I’m still trying to digest it all,” he said.

The mayor said he is glad the council wants to continue talks with Fire District 12. “I would have been disappointed if the whole concept went away” after all this work, Nehring said.

In other news:

•The mayor announced a proclamation to honor Seibert for his 16 years of service. Both he and Wright will be honored at an event at the Opera House Monday evening starting at 5:30.

•Seibert recommended withdrawing from the Snohomish Conservation District. He said the district wants to raise its costs, and it’s a duplication of city services done by public works anyway. Muller said while he opposed the increase, he did like that the district provides environmental education in schools. Councilman Jeff Vaughan said that could be done instead with public works and the school district. The measure passed.

•The council also approved a collective bargaining agreement for both non-member workers and those in the Teamsters union. The Teamsters have not signed off on it yet, but both types of workers would receive raises of just less than 3 percent. Union member Sam Day pointed out privately that their raise hardly compares to the huge one Public Works director Kevin Nielsen received.

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